Commentary: Funding Veterans Services Offices is our duty

California is proud to be home to 2 million military veterans — the most of any state in the nation.

Words cannot adequately express the gratitude that we feel as Californians for the service of these brave men and women. The very least that we can do to honor their many sacrifices is to ensure that our veterans receive the care, services and support they need and deserve.

That's why we're teaming up on a bipartisan basis to introduce Assembly Bill 2703, which would provide stable, annual funding from the state — $5.6 million per year — to fully fund the activities of our county Veterans Services Offices (VSOs).

In every county in California, VSOs act as a one-stop shop to help veterans become aware and take advantage of the many local, state and federal services available to them. These VSOs, including ours in Orange County, are usually the first and most accessible point of entry for local veterans seeking help. Typical services include job-training programs, tuition assistance, education funding and home-loan information.

Importantly, VSOs help veterans who are living on the edge of poverty avoid falling into homelessness by connecting them to one of the many veterans housing programs. And these county employees work to ensure our veterans receive the healthcare they require, including treatment for mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Considering the great work being done by the VSOs, it would seem that continued funding for these offices would be a priority in the Capitol.

Unfortunately, these offices have not received the full funding that Sacramento is obligated to provide. With a general lack of resources, many VSOs have had to reduce office hours and cut back staff. This is unacceptable.

Providing services for our veterans should not be a partisan issue. That's what this bipartisan legislation is about — doing the right thing and protecting veterans' funding from the annual budget chopping block. In a $100-billion budget, $5.6 million to ensure that veterans have quality healthcare, a roof over their heads and the extra support they may need to better provide for themselves and their families is a pretty paltry sum.

AB 2703 represents something increasingly rare in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.: Democrats and Republicans coming together to get things done. We have already united many lawmakers from both parties in support of this legislation. Working together, we are hopeful that we can end this budget injustice for our veterans once and for all this year. We owe America's heroes no less.

Assemblywoman SHARON QUIRK-SILVA, D-Fullerton, represents the 65th Assembly District and chairs the Assembly Committee on Veterans. Assemblyman JEFF GORELL, R-Camarillo, represents the 44th Assembly District and is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

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